On Transcribing (aka Support The Podcast, Save The World…)

975800f280ffa668873d04138d302129Back in the early days of teaching, I attended two weekend introductory language courses at the city technical college – one was in Australian sign language and culture, the other was Japanese 101.

These days I can only sign ‘thank you’ and ‘lion’ [makes big curly mane shape around head] and follow along a little bit with the subtitles on Cowboy Bebop

However, as a result of being completely out of my depth with two languages, when I started doing my own podcast, I kept miniature transcripts as I went along.

For two reasons – not only with the idea of making my show more accessible for people who may have issues with following along the audio, but also because of the work I did much later as a researcher.

From this post on my Patreon, The Quick And Dirty Guide To (Not) Notetaking During Podcasting

For about two years – 2006-2007 – I helped a PhD student do her research in the remote and rural areas of Western Australia, collecting qualitative and quantitative data on the ramifications of the raising of the school leaving age from 16 to 18-19 years of age. We travelled great distances and talked to teachers, administrators – and a lot of young people.

Essentially, we went to areas where there were a lot of disenfranchised young people who voiced their dissatisfaction with the lack of options, money, resources, businesses and government outlets to help them with their shrinking opportunities when it came to finding a job or seeking the career they wanted. It was often very depressing, sometimes inspirational when they talked about their versatility and work ethic.

I was there to help conduct interviews, collate and sort data, document our progress – and drive a car on really long, never ending roads. It was there I first started to learn about collecting data from interviews.

And the one thing that the PhD researcher emphasised was to LISTEN. Put your pen down. Pay attention. Interact. Sure, it’s being recorded – but you will miss things and they will respond differently if they think for just one second that you’re not engaged with the important data they’re producing for your benefit.

If she caught me picking up a pen during a session, she would quietly seize my wrist and take it from me. Even now, when I hold a pen during interviews, I feel a tightening around my watchband and a Mancunian accent (she was from Manchester) hissing at me to pay some respect to the job at hand.

So, I usually note-take extensively BEFORE the interview and brainstorm – and have the items in front of me. By the end of the interview, I might find myself doodling as a reward for a “job done”. But the rest must be done either before the interview, or only during in case of emergency – like reminding myself with a maximum of three words to ask for clarification on Point X. Or a timestamp where something happened with the audio that will need editing Screen Shot 2017-05-14 at 11.12.54 AM(“Interviewee leaves room to answer phone = 23:30; returns 26:40min” or “I sneeze: 6:30min”).

Therefore, when the Australian Audio Guide asked for thoughts on this post by  :
Transcripts in podcasts shouldn’t be an afterthought. To be , transcripts be part of a podcast strategic planning from day one. – I was slightly conflicted.

I agree with their response of:

This can be a tricky one for a # of reasons, amongst them a lack of automated tools or a hosting platform that includes auto-transcripts. One solution would be for podcasters to upload audio files (w/ static images) to YouTube (which does this for all uploads) 

… But that’s not really viable across the entirety of podcast-land. Plus, it’s bad for YouTube and the extra storage bad for environment! Many do post transcripts while others are purists about creating audio experiences that don’t make any sense as transcripts. For others, whose podcasts are conversational, the transcripts would have to be well edited to represent the value – repartée. Plus, $.

But it’s tricky – the ideal of course is that everyone is able to provide such a thing. Or that public orgs at very least do. ABC used to?

I also strongly agree that the conversational-style-podcasts are a huge thing to transcribe – the only conversational-style podcast that I know with lengthy transcripts, also has a big fanbase that are willing to put in the effort to transcribe on their own time and dime, rather than have the show fund it – and even that project has slowed down over the years, with more needing transcription than actually transcribed.

My suggested strategy isn’t one that every show could (or want to, if you’re doing a podcast that is not like a ‘This American Life’ kind of program, and there’s plenty of shows out there that are not) do – and that is find a niche publisher that is willing to fund your work, or head to sites like Patreon. Or try putting them into a book and hope that they sell – much like Richard Fidler did with his interviews, and I did through self-publishing.

In my case, the opportunity to write for the Skeptical Inquirer’s website led to the Curiouser and Curiouser column – and even then, at the 2015 Walkley’s Freelance Focus event, one of the speakers openly derided transcripts of interviews as not-journalism. Apparently they’re not valued as complete documents in themselves by some people… while I still get emails from editors who work on improving Wikipedia, saying that they use transcripts I did as sources for articles.

Ultimately, I can see the value in transcribing as proposed by the likes of Colm McNaughton at the Radio Documentaries For Independent Producers workshop, as a useful stage if you’re creating some pieces of audio that can be improved by seeing the overall structure in text form, as well as a useful document for people who may not be able to / cannot easily access a podcast…

…but I also know that by listening and knowing your work, you can also learn to intuitively craft your audio piece to be what you want in most cases.

And if there was more support for transcripted podcasts and an encouragement to create them, it’d be wonderful to see more of them out there. Which is something I hope supporters of podcasts keep in mind when they want shows to not only be regularly produced, but also go above and beyond their current, often free-to-air, work.

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